- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson, ever the spoilsport, yesterday tried to put his team's current position in proper perspective. He pointed out that the Caps overcame a 16-point deficit to catch and pass Florida last season, and only Washington can prevent that from happening in reverse.

"We haven't done anything yet," he said. "We have the same record we had last year at this point [actually one more point but the same number of wins 29]. This is no different from last year, and we're all of a sudden talking like we're favored to win the Stanley Cup."

It was coach-talk to defuse premature expectations after the Caps came back from a six-game road trip with their best record ever after playing that many consecutive games on the road, 5-0-1.

The Caps tonight play host to Nashville, a 3-year-old team that has had more than its share of good fortune against Washington but all of it deserved. Former Caps general manager David Poile is the Predators' GM, and the team is coached by Barry Trotz, a man who guided many of the current Caps when he coached and ran the Portland, Maine, farm team.

Washington hasn't played at home since Feb. 1 and is on a 4-0-1 run at MCI Center. Overall, it is 7-0-2 in its last nine and starting the stretch drive toward a possible playoff berth. It has 23 games left, only nine on the road and all in the Eastern time zone.

But tonight troubles some of the Caps, who are worried a letdown might be in the works after two weeks on the road.

"You come back from a long road trip, you think once you're home everything's going to be easy, but it's quite the opposite," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "You've got to really guard against a letdown. What we did on the road would be a waste of time if we didn't do our job at home. I'm hoping there's no letdown because this is too good a thing to waste."

"They always say the first game back is the hardest, and it is," veteran Adam Oates said. "You get home, relax a little, and it's tough to get the juices flowing again. But we've had two good skates. Hopefully we're ready."

After Nashville, Montreal is in town Friday fighting for pride and jobs next season. Washington is in Carolina on Saturday in what could be as close to a playoff game as the first-place Caps will play in February as they try to prevent the second-place Hurricanes from gaining any ground in the Southeast Division. The six division winners are the top three seeds in each conference and awarded home ice for at least the first round.

"Carolina is viewing this as a four-point game," Wilson said, quickly adding he is not looking past Nashville, which is also locked in a playoff fight. "But Carolina is saying if we can beat Washington, maybe we can get back in it. And we can view it, we might not hear from them again if we win, like Florida last year."

Notes The Caps yesterday announced the signing of junior prospect Ross Lupaschuk, a 20-year-old defenseman with Red Deer, Alberta, in the Western Hockey League. He was taken in the second round in 1999, had an outstanding training camp and is having a better season: 20 goals and 46 points in 52 games, plus-21 defensively and 121 penalty minutes, showing he also likes to be involved. He signed a three-year-deal… . Right wing Joe Sacco, out with a shoulder bruise, is hoping to return to the lineup tonight.

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